No one would suggest that Carmelo Anthony is equal to or better than LeBron James (except maybe Melo himself), and no would suggest that the New York Knicks had a shot at beating the Miami Heat. But looking at the superstars and their respective teams can be instructive for would-be players and wanna-be general managers.
First, remember that the Knicks didn’t want Anthony as much as he wanted them. He was the consolation prize after New York went all-in during the “Summer of LeBron” tour in 2010. The Knicks reportedly had James Gandolfini reprise his role as Tony Soprano for a recruiting video, knowing that James is a huge fan of the HBO series. The pitch also included testimonials from Willis Reed, Mark Messier, Reggie Jackson and Earl Monroe. Famous New Yorkers Spike Lee, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Rock took part as well.
When James made his “Decision” to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on South Beach, the Knicks‘ fate was sealed, seemingly along with the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Knicks responded by granting Anthony’s wish and bringing him to New York at the following trade deadline, sending four players, three draft picks and $3 million to Denver in exchange.
Anthony is an exceptionally gifted scorer, one of the game’s best. But he lacks other dimensions that make James the best all-around player. When a roster has limitations like the Knicks‘, it needs a few more talented players instead of a great one like Anthony, because he certainly doesn’t make his teammates better.
There are worse things you can say about a player, namely, that he’s no good at all. That’s not the case here. However, you have to wonder about Anthony’s ability to play on a championship team. I’m not talking about an NCAA championship team, which he did as a freshman at Syracuse. The NBA is a totally different level where prolific scoring doesn’t necessarily lead to victories.
James won the scoring title in 2008 and could win more if it really mattered to him. The same unselfishness (cowardice according to some) that draws him criticism also makes him a transcendent talent. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have a higher career scoring average than James‘ 27.6 points per game. And only eight active players - all of them point guards - average more than James‘ career 6.9 assists per game.
Considering Anthony’s tendency to be a ball stopper, ball hog and black hole, care must be taken in building teams around him. It requires a delicate mix of players who don’t mind lots of dirty work and little glory. Rebounding, defending, screening and passing the ball to Anthony are prerequisites.
That approach to basketball isn’t recommended, doesn’t bode well for the Knicks and rarely works out well. While NBA teams definitely need their stars, two and preferably three, a bad decision on the pecking order spells doom. And it’s a terrible decision if the team’s focal point is more focused on himself, as seems to be the case with Anthony (124 field goal attempts in the series, compared to 143 for the next three Knicks combined).
“We have to elevate our teammates,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler told reporters Wednesday after the Heat’s 106-94 victory. “I think we have to do a better job of getting everybody involved, getting everybody playing at a high level, and getting everybody focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.
“And we have to do that collectively,” he said. “It has to be a team effort. It can’t be as individuals, because when you play as individuals you don’t get very far.”